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Trial by media


After avoiding the police for two and a half years, Tatsuya Ichihashi was finally captured in Suminoe, Osaka last month, to the delight of the Hawker family, the police, the Japanese public and the Japanese media. The circus that followed was quite disturbing: what appeared to be a lynch mob descended onto a shinkansen platform at Tokyo station to document the capture of Japan’s most wanted…

Live footage of an overexcited media monster, swarming and jostling around the bullet train to get a glimpse of Ichihashi, was broadcast across the nation. A reporter in a helicopter followed the vehicle transporting Ichihashi to Chiba’s Gyotoku police station, going to the extent of giving a step-by-step commentary on its movements. Does the Japanese public really demand this type of sensationalism, or have they been conditioned by the media, who rather than trying to inform, are fundamentally trying to boost ratings?

“Drive your dreams.” How much does Toyota pay to have their images flashed across our TV screens as we are given a brief reprieve from the mayhem of mindless information?
While all factors in this murder case–which even by Japan’s standards has received massive attention–indicate that the suspect is the culprit, there are several ethical issues that need discussing regarding the actions of the police, the media and the public. Trial by media is not an acceptable way to judge anyone in a developed country.

The decision by the police to raise the reward money to ¥10 million for any information leading to the arrest of Ichihashi had the public buzzing like cowboys looking at a “Wanted” poster. The National Police Agency, who rarely offers more than ¥3 million for similar cases, likely raised the reward as a result of media pressure, which was spurred by Lindsay Hawker’s parents visiting Japan to demand justice. The Japan Times Online reported that British Foreign Secretary Margaret Brecket directly urged the Japanese media to give more coverage to the case, thus putting further international pressure on Japan.

In the ensuing heightened coverage, the general public responded; there wasn’t a corner in Japan where suspect Ichihashi could hide. Should this lead to a guilty verdict–and it almost certainly will–then I feel the police and the public should be applauded for collaborating to smoke out a dangerous murderer, making Japan a safer place.

If the prosecution of Ichihashi leads to the death penalty, newly appointed Minister of Justice, Keiko Chiba, who has vocally opposed it in the past, will find herself faced with a dilemma. She could be forced to change her stance in order to appease a public that strongly favors government-sanctioned killings.

However, the bottom line is that we must not forget similar unsolved murders of Japanese citizens and Asian hostesses, which never receive as much attention as Ichihashi’s case. Would parents of other murder victims not like to have life-size cutouts of the suspects made, with reward money boosted? Evidently, this increases public interest and leads to arrests. The answer is obvious, and I believe it is now the responsibility of the media to give similar amounts of exposure to other cases, with the intention of selling newspapers and gaining ratings not being the purpose.

KS wants to hear your views on this article, and also any other comments you would like to make. Send your letters to [email protected] for the newly added Letters to the Editor page. Note that letters may be edited for length and clarity.

Text by Luke Hunter
Illustration by Enrique Balducci

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